Experimental musicExperimental music
is any music
that challenges the commonly accepted notions of what music is
. There is an overlap with avant-garde
music. John Cage
was a pioneer in experimental music and defined and gave credibility to the form.
As with other edge forms that push the limits of a particular form of expression, there is little agreement as to the boundaries of experimental music, even amongst its practitioners. On the one hand, some experimental music is an extension of traditional music, adding unconventional instruments, modifications to instruments, noises, and other novelties to orchestral compositions. At the other extreme, there are performances that most listeners would not characterize as music at all.
Some of the more common techniques include:
- "Prepared" instruments. Ordinary instruments are modified in their tuning or sound-producing characteristics. For example, guitar strings can have a weight attached at a certain point, changing their harmonic characteristics (Keith Rowe is one musician to have experimented with such techniques). The prepared piano is also common.
- Unconventional playing techniques. For example, strings on a piano can be plucked with a pick instead of being played the orthodox way, or the tuning pegs on a guitar can be rotated while a note sounds (called a "tuner glissando").
- Incorporation of instrumentss or scaless from non-Western musical traditions
- Use of sound sources other than conventional musical instruments such as trash cans, telephone ringers and doors slamming.
- Playing with deliberate disregard for the ordinary musical controls (pitch, duration, volume), as when depressing as many piano keys as possible with the forearm
- Use of tunings or scales inconsistent with the Western chromatic scale
While much discussion of experimental music centers on definitional issues and its validity as a musical form, the most frequently performed experimental music is entertaining and, at its best, can lead the listener to question core assumptions about the nature of music.
- John Cage, "Experimental Music" and "Experimental Music: Doctrine", in Silence (Wesleyan University Press, 1961)